Church officials did not cite a specific example of those public statements, but said the reform would include a review of ties between the Leadership Conference and NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. NETWORK played a key role in supporting the Obama administration's health care overhaul despite the bishops' objections that the bill would provide government funding for abortion. The Leadership Conference disagreed with the bishops' analysis of the law and also supported President Barack Obama's plan.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, said in a phone interview that the timing of the report suggested a link between their health care stand and the Vatican crackdown. The review began in 2009 and ran through June 2010, a few months after the health care law was approved. The report does not cite Obama or the bill.
"I can only infer that there was strong feeling about the health care position that we had taken," Campbell said. "Our position on health care was application of the one faith to a political document that we read differently than the bishops."
When the Vatican-ordered inquiry was initially announced, many religious sisters and their supporters said the investigation reflected church officials' misogyny and was an insult to religious sisters, who run hospitals, teach, and play other vital service roles in the church. Conservative Catholics, however, have long complained that the majority of sisters in the U.S. have grown too liberal and flout church teaching.
Around the same time of the doctrinal review of the Leadership Conference, the Vatican ordered an Apostolic Visitation, or investigation, of all American congregations for religious sisters, looking at quality of life, the response to dissent and "the soundness of doctrine held and taught" by the women. The results of that inquiry have not been released.
The report released Wednesday paints a scathing portrait of the Leadership Conference of Women's Religious as consistently violating Catholic teaching.